Paul employs AI to release third “new” Beatles song
As reported by the BBC, Sir Paul McCartney says artificial intelligence has enabled a ‘final’ Beatles song, to be released this year.
The two “new” Beatles songs of the nineties
In the mid-nineties, the three then remaining Beatles, Ringo, Paul and George cleaned up a couple of John Lennon demos to create the “new” Beatles songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”. They were released as singles, as well as on the accompanying albums to their TV series, “The Beatles’ Anthology”. “Free As A Bird” was on “Anthology Volume 1”, “Real Love” on “Anthology Volume 2”. A volume 3 was also released, and a third song was attempted, but it seems to have eventually been nixed by George.
In the early nineties, McCartney had asked Ono if she had any unreleased recordings by Lennon, so she sent him cassette tapes of four songs. “Free as a Bird” was recorded by Lennon in 1977, but was not complete. Lennon introduced the song on the cassette by imitating a New York accent and saying, “Free—as a boid” (bird). The other songs were “Grow Old With Me”, “Real Love”, and “Now and Then”. Ono says that it was Harrison and former Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall who initially asked her about the concept of adding vocals and instrumentation to Lennon’s demo tapes. Ono stated: “People have said it was all agreed when Paul came over to New York to induct John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it was all settled before then. I just used that occasion to hand over the tapes personally to Paul.”
McCartney went to Ono’s home after the induction ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to listen to, and receive, the Lennon demo tapes; he recalls the meeting with Ono:
She was there with Sean … and she played us a couple of tracks. There were two newies on mono cassettes which he did at home … [s]o I checked it out with Sean, because I didn’t want him to have a problem with it. He said, “Well, it’ll be weird hearing a dead guy on lead vocal. But give it a try.” I said to them both, “If it doesn’t work out, you can veto it.” When I told George and Ringo I’d agreed to that they were going, “What? What if we love it?” It didn’t come to that, luckily. I said to Yoko, “Don’t impose too many conditions on us, it’s really difficult to do this, spiritually. We don’t know, we may hate each other after two hours in the studio and just walk out. So don’t put any conditions, it’s tough enough.”
During an interview for the Anthology project, McCartney revealed that he was surprised to learn that Lennon’s demos of “Grow Old With Me” and “Real Love” had already been released and were well known by Lennon fans. “Grow Old With me” is on “Milk and Honey” (1984) and “Real Love” is on the soundtrack album to the Andrew Solt “John Lennon Imagine” film (1988).
Now And Then – the abandoned track
Before work on “Now and Then” began, Producer Jeff Lynne and engineer Marc Mann, set to work cleaning up the song. Lynne had worked on the mono cassette demos to bring them up to an acceptable quality where they could be worked on. “Now And Then” proved more of a technical challenge, as a 60-cycle mains hum could be heard throughout the whole recording.
Lynne and his team spent two weeks working on cleaning up the song at his home studio. A noise reduction tool for Pro Tools called DINR was used to remove the tapes noises.
They also prepared a “Temp Track Demo”. Using the MIDI sequencer Opcode Studio Vision, Lynne and Mann came up with an arrangement with drums, bass, piano and strings. The purpose of this demo was to see how a Beatles version of the song may sound and then present the ideas to the group.
Lynne and Mann now had a cleaned-up version of the song on a two-track DAT tape. With the adjusted/cleaned-up Lennon recording on one track, and a “click” track, or metronome track, on the other, to provide a strong audible guide for Ringo to add his drum rhythms to.
This was then brought to Paul McCartney’s Hog Hill Mill Studio in Sussex and transferred ot a 24-track reel-to-reel analog tape machine, to which other instruments were added on the remaining tracks (in fact, a second 24-track machine was “synched-up” with the first to provide 48 tracks for recording).
The three remaining Beatles soon began work on all demos with Jeff Lynne producing. Work on the demos began on 11th February 1994 with “Free As A Bird”, followed by work on “Now And Then” on 22nd June 1994.
The DAT master for “Now and Then” was transferred to analogue 24-track multi-track.
According to McCartney, the sessions for “Now And Then” were difficult. Like “Free As A Bird”, Lennon’s recording of “Now And Then” was still a work-in-progress. The lyrics sung by Lennon on his demo recording weren’t fully written at that stage. Lennon would fill in the missing lyrics with vocalisations as a place holder with the vocal melody. The three Beatles recorded attempted a basic backing track.
It was decided to abandon the song for the time being and focus on the more complete “Real Love”. Work continued “Now And Then” in early February 1995. McCartney was keen to continue work on the song, but the sessions ended (after having recorded a rough backing track) with a frustrated Harrison declaring the song “f***ing rubbish”. Work stopped on the recording in May 1995. You can read the full story of these recording sessions here.
A new mix of “Free As A Bird”
On 6 November 2015, Apple Records released a new deluxe version of the “1” album in different editions and variations (known as “1+”). Most of the tracks on “1” have been remixed from the original multi-track masters by Giles Martin. Giles Martin, with Jeff Lynne, also remixed “Free as a Bird” to accompany the music video for the DVD and Blu-ray releases.
The remix of “Free as a Bird” cleans up Lennon’s vocal further, and uses a different take of Harrison’s vocal phrase, replacing the lyric “whatever happened to the life that we once knew” with “whatever happened to the love that we once knew”. Towards the end of the track, this version also contains a clip of Lennon stating the phrase “turned out nice again” (George Formby’s catchphrase) played forward—which was played backwards in the original mix of the song.
McCartney’s lead vocal, buried in the original mix to serve as a double-track for Lennon’s own vocal, can now be heard more prominently in the second verse.
In a new interview with BBC Radio (available here) about his new photo book and upcoming exhibition, Paul explained that AI (artificial intelligence) technology had been used to “extricate” John Lennon’s voice from an old demo so he could complete the song.
“We just finished it up and it’ll be released this year,” he explained.
Paul did not name the song, but a BBC news article speculates that it probably is the 1978 demo of “Now And Then”. The band had attempted to record the song, which was an apologetic love song that was fairly typical of Lennon’s later career, but the session was quickly abandoned. The title has later been confirmed, when Skye @hidIive from “Beatles reddit” found the copyright renewal form for “Now and Then”, dated 7th Feb 2023 for “work registered” and “work amended” (thanks to Stephen in the comment section for mentioning this).
“It was one day – one afternoon, really – messing with it,” producer Jeff Lynne recalled.
“The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish.”
Sir Paul later claimed George Harrison had declared the song “rubbish” and refused to work on it.
“It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it,” he told Q Magazine.
“[But] George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.”
But in the new BBC interview, Paul talks about how he found out that amateurs experimenting with AI had been able to make it appear that John Lennon was singing one of Paul’s songs and that he had employed the technique to make “the last Beatles record”, as he calls it.
Q: What do you think about efforts that are being made through technology through artificial intelligence to recreate the early Beatles making your voice sound younger bringing those voices back from from the grave really?
Paul: Well, it’s a very interesting thing, you know, it’s something we’re all sort of tackling at the moment, trying to deal with what it’ll mean. I don’t hear it that much, because I’m not on the on the internet that much. But people will say to me ‘oh yeah there’s a track where John is singing one of my songs, and it isn’t, it’s just AI you know, so all of that is kind of scary but exciting, because it’s it’s the future and we were able to use that kind of thing.
Paul: When Peter Jackson did the film ‘Get Back’ where it was us making the ‘Let It Be’ album, and he was able to extracate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette where it had John’s voice and a piano he could separate them with AI. They could do they tell the machine ‘that’s a voice, this is a guitar (sic), lose the guitar’, and he did that, so he has great uses.
Paul: So … we came to make what will be the last Beatles record. It was a demo that John had that we worked on and we just finished it up to be released this year. We were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI, so then we could mix the record as you would normally do, you know. So it gives you it gives you some sort of leeway, so there’s a good side to it and then a scary side, and we’re just not to see where that leads.
Our guess is that AI has been combined with machine learning to this track. Machine learning is used to separate the piano from the vocals, and AI to enhance the vocals. Amateurs experimenting with AI already did work on “Now and Then”, listen to it here.
In the 2012 “Mr Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne and ELO” documentary, Paul also mentioned getting together with Lynne and finish off Now And Then “one of these days”, as you can hear in this TikTok clip.
Seeing as the new work on “Now And Then” was registered in February, Ringo may have added a new drum track to the remake. Also, George’s guitar work from the rough backing track may have been used to secure all four Beatles’ involvement in the released song.
As for the fourth song Yoko gave to Paul, “Grow Old With Me” was recorded and released by Ringo Starr, featuring Paul McCartney on bass guitar and backing vocals on Ringo’s 2019 album, “What’s My Name”. Listen to their version here.